ROCKFORD — Season passes, as well as weekday and weekend greens fees for Rockford Park District golf courses, will be more expensive for park district residents next year if commissioners approve a new fee structure that’s part of the district’s proposed budget.

Golfers who don't live within the park district boundaries have historically paid higher fees than residents, but under this proposal they would pay the same rates.

“We heard from our golf community and from our operations advisory committee that we are offering too many programs and different prices,” Park District Executive Director Jay Sandine said in an email. “It’s not simple and easy to understand. So, that is why we went with a flat rate for the passes instead of a different rate for nonresidents versus residents. We have to make it easy and simple for golfers to choose us.”

Golf courses no longer generate an operating surplus for the park district as the number of rounds played each year has dropped by tens of thousands. Expenses have exceeded revenues at park district courses in eight of the last nine years.

District officials, who held several community meetings this summer in search for solutions, said there was widespread support for higher fees to help reduce the property tax dollars subsidizing golf.

The cost of season passes at park district golf courses would increase 22 to 54 percent for park district residents depending on the pass. For example, the cost of a top-of-the-line adult season pass for the district’s five golf courses, including motorized cart and practice range, would increase by $320 to $1,800 for residents. Nonresidents would also pay $1,800 for the pass, a decrease of $80 compared to the 2018 rate.

"Residents are also getting benefit from their tax investment through neighborhood parks, playgrounds, trails and parks, and other recreational facilities and programs that are being provided through those tax dollars, not just golf," Park District Superintendent of Operations Dan Jacobson said. "So, there is a larger benefit for the taxpayer."

The proposed fee increases are based on community input, Director of Golf Services Ann Bloomfield said.

“In engaging the community, they had said that one of the ways they would support us is by increasing fees,” Bloomfield said. “So, we kind of looked at where we could kind of meet in the middle between resident and nonresident and just flattening the rates out and making it easier for everybody to participate in the park district.”

The proposed fee hikes come at a time when rounds of golf at park district courses continue to spiral downward.

Approximately 110,000 rounds of golf were played at park district courses in 2018. That’s down 5 percent compared to 2017 totals. Rounds of golf at park district courses are less than half of what they were during the golf boom in the 1990s.

The district is considering selling, leasing or repurposing Elliot and perhaps another course in 2020 depending on next season’s golf revenues.

Still, the park district is committed to attracting new golfers through nontraditional means including expanding its year-round golf facilities at Mercyhealth Sportscore Two.

The district is also pursuing alternative revenue sources including video gaming at park district courses, merchandise and sponsorships.

Park district commissioners will consider the 2019 budget recommendations on Tuesday. The budget will be up for approval in January.

“At the end of the day, as we discussed with our golf community and community at large, the taxpayers told us loud and clear that they love golf courses, but they don’t want their tax dollars going to them,” Sandine said. “So, we must increase fees, make it easier for nonresidents to come to us and pay money, continue to come up with creative ways of (generating) new revenue, or we will end up with less golf courses and that would be a shame.”

Ken DeCoster: 815-987-1391;; @DeCosterKen

Proposed fees

See the Rockford Park District's complete fee proposal for all facilities below. Golf begins on page 3 of the document.